Abandoned pets as 'free as a bird'?

Abandoned pets, particularly cats and rabbits may be shot in The Netherlands. An account of the legal framework, within which, in any event, arrangements for refuge for this category of animals are not watertight. Written by , sollicitor at Dier & Recht (which translates into 'Animal and Law' as well as 'Animal and Justice'). This is a small foundation in The Netherlands dealing with the legal aspects of animal welfare.

The sad story of Flappy the rabbit and Felix the cat

Holiday time - a wonderful time for many people, but sadly , not for pets. It's the same story every year: people going on holiday suddenly find their pets a burden. The simplest solution is just to "dump" them somewhere. Last Summer, hundreds of pet rabbits were re-"released" into nature. Rabbits, however, are not the only house pets to be allowed, from one day to the next, to "enjoy a natural life", hundred of cats are also forced to continue life as strays. Although, of course, numerous dogs are also left behind in the woods, they normally allow themselves to be caught quite easily and can therefore be taken into safe, caring refuge. On the other hand, cats and rabbits are not so easy to catch. Abandoned cats can survive quite well in the wild (even if this is at the cost of mice and birds), but tame rabbits are so fundamentally domesticated that nature is a totally strange world to them. Their chances of survival are practically zero, and if they should survive, a cruel fate awaits them … the bullet! This is also the fate of a large number of cats who have been dumped in the outdoors.

Dutch Legal framework

Both the Health and Welfare Law for animals and the Flora and fauna Law have restrictions regarding this problem. The Health and Welfare Law is, in principle, concerned with kept animals, but article 36 protects all animals. The text of article 1 states: "It is forbidden without reasonable purpose, or by overstepping that which is acceptable for attaining that purpose, to cause pain or injury to an animal or to endanger the health or welfare of an animal". Unfortunately, many purposes would appear to be regarded as "reasonable" [1]. De Flora and fauna Law (FfL) forms the framework for legal protection of indigenous and exotic plants and animals living in the wild. This law, also protects animals because their existence is valuable in its own right, irrespective of which use they could be to humans. The law stipulates, amongst others, that protected animals may not be killed, captured or distressed and plants may not be picked, dug up or collected. Furthermore, everyone needs to respect and take sufficient care of the plants and animals living in the wild (art. 2). It is also prohibited to damage or disturb nests, burrows or other permanent resting or living areas of protected animals. The Flora and fauna Law operates on the "no, unless" principle. Protection is first and foremost, invasion is an exception. In practice this means that certain (in principle, prohibited) actions with regard to animals and plants are only possible under strict conditions, for example in the context of the hunt or supervision and damage control.
Can we conclude from the aforesaid that the Flora and fauna Law applies to abandoned pets, who do, after all live in the wild? The Minister of Agriculture has informed on several occasions that pet animals gone wild do not come under the protection of the Flora and fauna Law. In reaction to a letter from the Royal Dutch Hunting Association about bottlenecks in the law, the Minister of Agriculture at the time put it as follows: "No prohibition applies to capture or killing of non-protected indigenous animals, exotic animals and pets gone wild. However, use of the means by which unprotected indigenous animals - whether or not protected exotic animals and pets gone wild - may be captured or killed, is regulated. Animals may not be captured or killed by means other than those laid down in the stipulation supervision and damage control, or that conflict with the rules for use of these means, as set out in that stipulation. Unprotected indigenous animals, whether or not protected exotic animals or pets gone wild cannot be killed just like that. It is forbidden without reasonable purpose, or by overstepping that which is acceptable for attaining that purpose, to cause pain or injury to an animal or to endanger the health or welfare of an animal (article 36 Health and Welfare Law for animals). Supervision and damage control, as meant in the Flora and Fauna Law can, however, be regarded as a "reasonable purpose" [2].

Hunt, supervision and damage control

In view of the stipulation in the Flora and Fauna Law, therefore, pets gone wild may be killed under certain circumstances and conditions. The Law distinguishes between the hunt, supervision and damage control. The following overview of stipulations in the FfL outlines the basic principles[3].

The hunt

Only six animal types classified as wild may, in principle, be hunted. The rabbit is one of these six, the others are the hare, pheasant, partridge, wild duck and wood pigeon (art. 32, first subsection). For the non-wild types, a regime of supervision and damage control applies. This regime also applies to the six wild types outside of the opening times of the hunting season. The duration of the hunting season has been determined per each wild type. For the rabbit that is from 15 August until 31 January. Hunting during this period is allowed, in principle, between sun up and sun down. A number of conditions apply to hunting. There are, for example, limitations as to the weapons used for hunting and to conditions which hunting grounds must meet. When hunting with a rifle, a valid hunting permit is required. Hunting will also not be opened in areas which have been afforded natural monument status, as laid down in the Nature Conservation Law, or Wetlands or bird reserves. The hunter is further obligated to ensure that wild animals do not suffer unnecessarily during the hunt (art. 47).

Supervision and damage control

Apart from the hunt, an exception to general protection in the context of supervision and damage control is also possible by means of a general permit (dispensation) or an individual dispensation or order. Most authority in the context of supervision and damage control has been assigned to the Provinces. The Provinces may grant general dispensation from the prohibitory clauses for certain species. The Provincial Executive may grant individual dispensations in the interests of supervision and damage control or order control of the numbers of certain animal types.

National and provincial dispensations (art. 65)

The Government has drawn up a list of animal species causing extensive damage throughout the country (the so-called national harmful types). This list includes the rabbit [4]. National dispensation is intended to limit or prevent extensive damage to plants, livestock, woods, fish farms, waters or fauna. The land occupier is authorized, amongst others, to kill, to deliberately disturb (chase), remove nests or collect eggs of animals classified as national harmful types. The dispensation enables the numbers of these animals to be controlled, by shooting them, for example. It makes no difference whether these animals cause damage or could cause damage. There must, however, be a causative connection between the existence of the species and the damage. Apart from the national harmful types, a number of animal species has been designated as causing extensive damage in parts of the country: the so- called provincial harmful types, to which belong, i.a. the barnacle Goose, the grey Goose, the hare, the house mouse, mute swan, coot, bean Goose, rook, Brent Goose and wild duck. Provinces may, by ordinance, allow land occupants to conduct certain acts to prevent damage by these animals. Considering the regional differences regarding existence of the species and the possible damage they could cause, provincial ordinances may vary considerably.

Order to control the numbers of certain wild species (art. 67)

The Provincial Executive may appoint (categories of) people to control the numbers of certain wild species, sometimes also with the permission of the land occupier. This could involve protected animal types, other animals types or pets gone wild; the following animals are on the list at present. Coypu, Canadian Goose, fallow deer, red deer, grey Goose, mute swan, rabbit, raccoons, mountain raven, muskrat, Egyptian Goose, roe, ruddy duck, Siberian ground squirrel, pigeons, cats, minks gone wild, and wild boar [5]. In the context of supervision and damage control, animals may not be subjected to unnecessary suffering (art. 67, second subsection under , art. 73). But a rabbit may be hunted in both the context of the hunt and supervision and damage control. The cat gone wild is better off, in this regard; he may only be hunted in the context of controlling the number of his kind.

Other protection for the stray house cat?

Following a number of incidents, whereby a housecat was shot "accidentally", commotion has arisen about shooting "cats gone wild". Insulted reactions were published in various media and parliamentary questions were asked by the Party for the Animals. In reply to these questions, the Minister, according to some sources gave a whole new explanation of the Flora and Fauna Law with regard to using rifles to combat exotic animals and animals gone wild. [6] Killing exotic animals and animals gone wild with a rifle is, according to the Minister of Agriculture, only allowed when the Province has given an indication for this on the basis of article 67 FfL. In cases where the Province has not designated holders of hunting permits as a category of persons who may kill exotic animals and animals gone wild with a rifle, hunters commit an offence when they kill these animals. Ms. Snijder-Hazelhoff of the political party VVD has asked the minister for clarity on the new explanation [7].

The continuing suffering of dumped pet rabbits

There is, unfortunately, less attention for the dumped pet rabbits. While their suffering is probably the more pitiful: dumped, hunted and nowhere welcome! Contrary to refuge for cats and dogs, refuge for rabbits in large parts of The Netherlands has not been regulated. For example, if you were a rabbit, you'd be better off not being dumped on the route Amersfoort-Zwolle, because then there is nobody who would be interested in your fate. The only place concerned with the welfare of dumped rabbits in recent years was Rabbit Refuge BunnyBin. This organization announced some time ago that she would soon close down. In spite of pleading letters from the manager, it is still not clear where rescued rabbits may find refuge. The Animal Ambulance in this area, which brought dumped rabbits to BunnyBin on a regular basis is deeply concerned. Nobody knew where the animals should go when the refuge closed in September 2008. A Member of Parliament from the Party for the Animals has asked questions about this, but up to now, the Minister has insisted that refuge is the responsibility of the Municipal Council, not of the State [8]. In short, with the exclusion of all caring pet owners, the lives of cats and rabbits in The Netherlands is full of risks; your own master/mistress can not only neglect or mistreat you, but can also dump you - and then you are as free as a bird! Discussions are currently taking place on the proposal for the Animal Law, perhaps a good opportunity to reach a settlement here?
[1] In the third article is stipulated, that everyone should afford animals in need all necessary care; this care obviously does extend as far as having a national refuge system organized. This obligation has not been taken into consideration here; for the popular interpretation, please see the article "Animals in need and the necessary care" (link under the article). [2] Letter from the Minister of Agriculture to the Royal Dutch Hunting Association, dated 03-12-2003, nr. lnv0300828. [3] In the article "Stray dogs and cats: which rules and which rights?" (Flora and fauna Journal October 2005, nr. 6, p. 142-152), Luuk Boerema zooms in on details and complications, also in regard to cats who still have an owner. The author pleads for measures other than killing. [4] Appendix 1 to the Stipulation supervision and damage control for animals (Stb. 2000, 521, as last amended on 26 January 26 2006, Stb. 42). [5] Appendix to the Ruling supervision and damage control for animals (Stcrt. 2001, 241, as last amended on 2 November 2007, Stcrt. 215). [6] Appendix to the Parliamentary Papers, 2007-2008, nr. 3135. On 8 August 2008 Thieme again asked parliamentary questions, question nr. 2070827130. [7] Parliamentary questions TK, 2007-2008, question nr. 2070828070, submitted 25 August 2008; With reference to the Appendix to the Parliamentary Papers 2006-2007, nr. 2474. [8] Appendix to the Parliamentary Papers 2007-2008, nr. 2929; More recent parliamentary questions TK, 2007-2008, question nr 2070827410, submitted 14 August 2008.

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